An uphill battle to retain its four Lok Sabha seats faces Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab as it sees its fortunes slump in the state due to factionalism, infighting and allegations of lack of transparency within the party.
Punjab was the only state in the country to have returned four AAP candidates as MPs in the 2014 General Elections, a development which at the time had caught even the AAP leadership by surprise. However, since then the graph of the party has nose-dived and internal squabbles have cost it dearly leaving it in a very uncertain position two months ahead of the polls.
The first signs of troubles within AAP had surfaced when two of its newly elected MPs— Dr Dharamvira Gandhi from Patiala and Harvinder Singh Khalsa from Fatehgarh Sahi — were suspended for anti-party activities. Both had challenged the national leadership of the party, led by Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, of having not adhered to the slogan of Swaraj and autonomy for regional party units. Click here for more election news
Dr Gandhi later went on to float his Punjab Manch from where he advocated federal structure for states with lesser interference from centre and autonomy for states in the real sense. Now, he has floated Nava Punjab Party which comes as a clean break from AAP. He will now be standing for re-election from Patiala under the banner of this new party.
The other suspended MP, Harvinder Singh Khalsa, has also distanced himself totally from AAP and is not expected to stand for re-election. The remaining two MPs — Bhagwant Mann from Sangrur and Sadhu Singh from Faridkot — have been given tickets for the polls.
However, Sadhu Singh will face a split in votes in his constituency as another AAP rebel, Baldev Singh, MLA from Jaitu, who has resigned from the party, has been announced as the candidate from Faridkot from Punjab Ekta Party (PEP and the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA).
Within the party, Sangrur seat, held by state president Bhagwant Mann, is being seen as the only where AAP has a fighting chance to win and, realising this, Mann has been among the first candidates to jump into the poll mode. He has been campaigning in villages of his constituency since January this year and on some days he visits nearly a dozen villages as part of his campaign. He has also been making good use of the social media for reaching out to the voters of the state and all his village meetings are put on Facebook Live platform.
After having declared its first five Lok Sabha candidates in the month of October itself, AAP has struggled to put out names of remaining candidates. In fact, in major embarrassment to the party, following reports of a tie-up between AAP and SAD (Taksali) and the Anandpur Sahib seat being given to Bir Devinder Singh from the Taksali group, AAP candidate from Anandpur Sahib, Narinder Singh Shergill, has made it clear he will not withdraw from the race and contest come what may.
There has been objection within the party also to the tie-ups with the Taksali Akalis. Suspended AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu has been objecting to a tie-up. “How can AAP, which swears by secularism, think of forging an alliance with a Panthic outfit like Akali Dal Taksali? All those in Punjab committed to AAP ideology must oppose the decision of self-serving Punjab leaders who are doing this,” he said.
The inability of the party to keep its flock together in Vidhan Sabha will also reflect on its performance on the ground. Out of the 20 MLAs that were originally elected, three have quit the party. These include Sukhpal Khaira, H S Phoolka and Baldev Singh. Out of the remaining 17 MLAs, five are rebels who tacitly support Khaira. These are Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu, Raikot MLA Jagtar Singh Hissowal, Maur MLA Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Mansa MLA Nazar Singh Manshahia and Bhadaur MLA Pirmal S9ingh Khalsa.